The last time I did an Olympic-distance triathlon, I threw up for eight hours afterwards. It was an 85-degree day in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in an effort to keep the sun off my face I’d worn a Red Sox cap. The hat seemed like a great idea, as people cheered “Go Sox!” when I ran by. But in reality, it was a terrible idea. You know how they say you lose 30 percent of your body heat through your head? Well, the cap gave my body heat no where to go. I got hotter and hotter as I ran through the shadeless course, didn’t drink enough water, and didn’t take enough nutrition. I finished well, but about a half hour afterwards I started getting sick. Every time I had a sip of water, I’d get sick. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
All this was on my mind as I trained for the Ashland Lions Olympic Triathlon. With my hip in questionable shape, I wasn’t hoping to PR. Mostly, I just wanted to finish without throwing up. My plan was to do as well as I could in the swim and the bike and then take it easy on the run. If my hip started hurting I’d walk, and worst case drop out. I didn’t want to be a hero only to re-injure myself or do more damage.
I started the day at 5:15 a.m. Breakfast was cashew butter and honey on a deconstructed granola pancake, and an iced almond milk latte. I was on the road by 6, and arrived in Ashland right at 6:30 where I got my packet, set up my transition area, and then proceeded to use the port-o-potties three times. It doesn’t matter what the race is, I always get a nervous bladder before the start.
7:30 arrived quickly, and soon I was putting on my wet suit, applying body glide, and heading down to the start. And when I say heading “down to the start,” I mean it. I have never seen anything like it. Usually, there’s 100 yards or so between the end of the swim and the transition area. This was a .4 mile trail, complete with tree roots, rocks, and a bridge, none of which were mentioned in the race information. Fortunately, I had flip flops; a lot of others wore sneakers, but that seemed a bit labor intensive for a transition. The area down by the water looked like the outside of a Buddhist temple, with shoes everywhere. I hung my flip-flops on a tree branch so they’d be easy to find. Pretty soon, I was gathering with my wave and we were off.
The swim was a mile-long rectangle. The wind had picked up by the time we started, and was coming right into shore. The first leg was choppy and crowded, as 100 swimmers all jockeyed for position and fought the wind. I started to freak out a bit as it was crowded and between the wind and the crowd breathing was difficult. Once we make the first turn the wind was to our backs and the crowd thinned. I focused on making consistent, clean strokes, as was heartened to see a few yellow caps from the previous wave in my midst. The wetsuit made sighting much easier, as I was so buoyant… It felt like I hardly had to pick up my head to get my bearings. But I had no idea where I was in the pack. The sprint racers were mixed in as well, which made me think I was slower than I was. I was out of the water in 25:18, the third woman, and 25th overall. I guess all this injury swimming has paid off.
The last thing I wanted to do when I got out of the water was trail run a half mile uphill. But I had no choice. I grabbed my flip-flops out of a tree, slipped them on, and started off gingerly. I always feel a bit dizzy when I go from swimming horizontally to running vertically, and Sunday was no different. I was careful navigating rocks and roots, and pretty soon I was crossing a grassy field to the transition area. Careful planning meant that I had everything I needed at my fingertips, and I was out of there pretty fast. Full transition was 6:50.
The bike course was a hilly two loops. There was a dead skunk in the road that was pretty ripe… ended up passing that poor guy FOUR times on Sunday. There were a lot of uphills and my climbing is lacking, so things were slow at times. I tried to keep a steady pace and really make the most of the downhills. The course was pretty and there wasn’t too much traffic. They had a lot of cops out there, and volunteers to direct you at every turn. The loop course was also being used by the sprinters, so again it was hard to tell where I was in the pack. I got passed by 10 or 12 people, most of them men. On the second loop, the sprint runners were sharing the road and things got kind of confusing. No one knew which side of the road they should be on, or who had right of way. It felt like a game of chicken at times. Add cars into the equation and it really wasn’t optimal. Through out the race, I ate every 45 minutes, either five gummies, or a caffeinated gel. I felt ok when I got off the bike, but I never really felt strong. My biking isn’t really where I want it to be, and Sunday was evidence of that. I need more group rides. Time: 1:38:32 (average pace 15.8 mph).
My only complaint here was that there were spectators with small kids in the transition area cheering for their Dad. Dad was trying to get them out of the way and get his shoes on, Mom was getting upset, and the whole family drama really didn’t need to be happening in front of me. I tried to just get around them and get my shoes and visor on as quickly as possible so I could get out of there. Time: 1:46.
I had no idea what to expect on this leg. I haven’t run more then four miles since April 27, and doing a “test run” at Harvard stadium Thursday was probably a terrible idea. My calves were still tight from that, and my legs generally felt tired. I told myself that I’d run until I felt pain and then walk. The first half mile was uphill, past the dead skunk, and then turned into a residential area. The course was pleasant and shady, and they had water stations every 3/4 miles. But it was also pretty much rolling hill after rolling hill, and I knew that under better circumstances I would have been attacking these hills rather than just trying to make it to the top. I was alone for most of this leg, and started thinking that I really must be in the back because I had seen so few people. I took water at each station, took a sip and dumped the rest over my head to keep cool. As the miles ticked by I kept taking stock of how my hip was feeling. Yes, it was tight, but was it painful? No. I kept running. Once I got to the 5-mile mark, it occurred to me that I would probably be able to run the entire leg, which made me pretty happy. I finished strong, took some water, and went to stretch my hips and glutes out. Time: 1:04:43 (9:57 mile).
After drinking some water and eating a bit, I wandered over to the results board and was shocked to see my results. Despite recovering from an injury, and a not great bike performance, I finished first in my age group! OK, so there were only five people in my age group, but it was still pretty great to hear my name called and to go up to the podium.
I know that with training I could take 10 minutes off the bike, easily, and that without an injury I could take another 10 off the run, which would put me under 3 hours. In my last oly, I averaged 19.8 mph on the bike… granted, that was a very flat course, but I know I’m capable of better. I also think my prep in the days before the race were a mixed bag.
Things I did well:
– Strived to eat a good mix of lean protein and complex carbs.
– Didn’t drink alcohol.
– Drank a lot of seltzer and water.
– Got plenty of sleep the two nights before the race.
Things I did not so well:
– Did stairs at Harvard stadium Thursday for the first time in months. My calves were still feeling it Sunday.
– Went for a two-hour kayak Saturday, which resulted in tired triceps, tight hips, and a blister on the inside of my thumb.
– Did not stretch/foam roll the night before the race.
Overall, I’d say this was a pretty good race experience, and an important step as I head towards Timberman. I’m really excited to officially be a triathlete again.